Spark, Muriel. Memento Mori.

NY: St. Martin, 1959.

It’s the late ’50s in London, and what with two world wars during their lifetimes there are a lot of now-elderly middle and upper-middle class widows around. A dozen of them, either old or infirm or both, inhabit a row of beds at the Maud Long Medical Ward, all of them resentful at being patronized by the staff as “Granny.”

And they worry about being “culled” during the coming winter by having their inevitable flu left untreated.

One of the grannies is Jean Taylor, who used to be lady’s maid to the newly deceased Lisa Brooke, has become friendly with Dame Lettie, widowed novelist and an old friend of Lisa’s, who has apparently seized on Granny Taylor as a replacement confident. And Lettie’s brother is the rather repressive Godfrey, who takes pleasure in observing that he’s in better physical condition than his relatives and acquaintances who are a decade younger. (It should be noted that none of the principal characters in the story are less than elderly.)

What triggers the action, such as it is, are the mysterious phone calls Lettie receives a couple of times a day — an unknown male voice that says only, “Remember, you must die.” Which, of course, is the translation of the title. Who is the caller and what does it mean? And is she the only one receiving them?

There are several more layers to the complex plot — I haven’t even mentioned the maneuvering surrounding Lisa’s several wills — and since the action is largely internal (except at the very end), it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I found it fascinating. This was only Dame Muriel’s third novel, but she didn’t start writing until she was in her forties, and she does an excellent and sympathetic job of depicting the many aspects of aging.

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Published in: on 20 February 2017 at 4:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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